With a 5-3 record in title games, Syracuse’s John Desko has experienced the highs and lows as the coach of the sport’s most decorated program. But none of the players who absorbed Monday’s 16-10 loss to seventh-seeded Duke in a NCAA tournament final at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia had never faced that setback, leaving it to Desko to address his team.
“I told them that even though it stings right now, there’s going to come a time where I think they’ll look back at the season and everything they’ve done and the experience of the playoffs and being here in the national championship game, and they’ll have good memories,” Desko said. “Their teammates are going to be some of their best friends for the rest of their lives, and I think they’ll come to understand that and they’ll come to appreciate it. It hurts and stings right now.”
The pain may be especially palpable for a senior class that became the first group since 1999 to graduate without capturing a NCAA crown at least once in four years. But senior defenseman Brian Megill said he had no regrets.
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“We’re here,” he said. “That was our goal all along. Take every game like it’s a national championship game because that’s what the goal was all throughout the whole season. I couldn’t be more proud of the guys, and if I can just hope that we pass down one thing to the younger guys, just doing the right thing, leadership. It’s on and off the field and you know, this team exemplifies everything that we did as a unit all year long, on and off the field, in the classroom, in the community, on the lacrosse field. We played with head, heart and hustle, and I just hope it gets passed down to these younger kids.”
Still, there was much for the Orange to be proud of. They went 16-4, captured the Big East tournament crown for the second year in a row, and earned the top seed in the NCAA tournament.
Desko said the seniors’ leadership is what will resonate with him the most.
“They talked to themselves quite a bit about their legacy, and I think that’s why they worked so hard and stayed so focused all year long,” Desko said. “From defense to offense, guys were really sponges. When you lose a game and then you look at the film, you tend to listen to the coaches a little more, and I think they did that well, and I think as a result they got better, and I think they saw that, the things that we were doing in practice and through film and strength and conditioning. They saw it work, and they stayed with it, and then we got another win and another win, and I think it just gave a lot of credibility to what was going on, and as a result, they drew confidence and strength from that.”
*Junior Dominic Lamolinara may be the losing goalkeeper of record, but he may have cemented his status as the team’s starter next season. The Arnold native and St. Mary’s graduate turned away 11 Duke shots – including eight in the first half – and Desko said Syracuse’s march to the tournament final would not have been possible with Lamolinara. “I thought he really played solid, especially in the second half,” Desko said. “He not only made good saves, [but he made] some spectacular saves, some one-on-one saves that allowed us to be in this game today. A couple in these playoff games could have gone in and we might have been watching today. But fortunately, we weren’t, and we had the opportunity to play in this game. I think a lot of it had to do with Dom.”
*The Orange’s 5-0 spurt to open the title game against the Blue Devils was a result of the offense taking advantage of Duke’s aggressive sliding and finding open teammates for scoring opportunities. But those chances evaporated as junior Brendan Fowler began winning faceoffs for the Blue Devils. “It’s tough,” said sophomore attackman Kevin Rice, who recorded one goal and three assists. “Possessions dried up, and when you don’t have the ball for long stretches of time, you tend to force it, and we’ve been pretty good about that all year. But in the third quarter, I think we probably had the ball two or three times, and we threw it away a couple of those times, and we really needed to be more patient when we did get it.”